Travel

Aquileja (World Heritage)

According to physicscat, Aquileja was one of the wealthiest and largest cities of the Roman Empire and played an important role in the later Christianization. The basilica, consecrated in the 13th century, with its huge mosaic floor, which can accommodate around 10,000 people, is important. It was built based on the model of St. Michael’s Church in Hildesheim.

Aquileia: facts

Official title: Archaeological sites and basilica of the Patriarch of Aquileia
Cultural monument: Aquileja, known in the Middle Ages as Aglar, with the Cathedral of Santa Maria, a three-aisled basilica with a 700 m² mosaic floor, under the cathedral an early Christian cult complex (4th century), as well as with the Roman excavations: a. Remains of the ancient river port, Roman Forum, remains of the ancient city wall and ruins of the amphitheater
Continent: Europe
Country: Italy, Friuli Venezia Giulia
Location: Aquileja, south of Udine
Appointment: 1998
Meaning: one of the once wealthiest cities of the early Roman Empire; Key role in the Christian conversion of Central Europe

Aquileja: history

181 BC Chr. Established as a Roman colony
161-180 Reign of Emperor Mark Aurel
168/69 Plague and stay of the emperors Lucius Aurelius Verus (130-169) and Mark Aurel (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus) in Aquileja
319 under Bishop Theodorus construction of the Patriarch’s basilica, today’s Cathedral of Santa Maria
452 extensive destruction by the hordes of Attila
1215 Font “Welsche Gast” by the Canon of Aquileja, Thomasin von Zirkläre from the Friulian ministerial family
1420 Conquest by the Venetians
1751 Abandonment of the patriarchal seat
1909 Discovery of the mosaic floor in the cathedral

Monumental remnants of ancient and medieval splendor

When Attila’s Huns sacked the blooming Aquileja in the 5th century, the residents moved further to the sea to Grado and to the islands of the lagoon there. When the “summer caravans” arrive today, they rush down the dead straight Via Giulia Augusta in Aquileja to the sea. And even if they are stopped by the traffic of the confluent Via Gemina, those looking for relaxation do not immediately realize that their car is in the center of an ancient Roman city.

Should you look over at the good dozen antique columns and become curious, you can read that the forum was once here, the center of urban life with administrative and commercial buildings. At first glance, it does not reveal the enormous importance that this small place, the last obstacle before the beach of Grado, once had. The current municipality of Aquileja has about 3500 residents; about two millennia ago it was between seventy and one hundred thousand.

Originally, this place was nothing more than a military outpost that could be reached via a navigable river. Here, in the hinterland of the upper Adriatic, the Romans settled, as this spot, which also served the legions as winter quarters, was strategically located for the expansion of their empire to the north, east and south-east. And in the plain south of the foothills of the Alps, which can be seen in the distance, many a war adventure began.

What was favorable for the military also turned out to be useful in other respects, as this Roman colonia soon developed into an important trading center. A visit to the Archaeological Museum of Aquileja brings us a little closer to this part of the story. There is a ship eleven meters long in this museum. Was it one of those ships that brought goods from all over the Mediterranean to the port on the Natissa River? At least the moorings with the stone mooring rings are still well preserved. And the goods that were to be sold quickly had a short way from there via a decumanus that led from the quay to the business center. One piece of the mosaic is lined up after the other to get to the bottom of the city’s history.

However, only a part of the goods remained in place; another found his way across the Alps. The trade was joined by local handicrafts that refined products and produced vases, amphorae and oil lamps. Marble work and the art of mosaic took on a particular scope, the rich legacy of which can be seen in local museums, the later Christian basilica and also in the open air.

A plaque on a basilica wall commemorates the former size of the city, referring to a papal decree for this church, “which came just after the Roman one”. Where did such pride come from? Why such a lush church building that had a few predecessors before it got the current Romanesque form?

What was useful to the military and traders was just right for the messengers of faith. As soon as their religion was legalized in 313, Christians set out from Aquileja to preach the Gospel in Bavaria, Hungary and Croatia. And just as the church leaders in Jerusalem or Constantinople became patriarchs, the Bishop of Aquileia also received this prominent title. However, the patriarchy did not retain its supraregional importance for long. Even the support of Charlemagne only gave it back its shine temporarily. In a later heyday, today’s basilica was built in the 11th century, rising above an early Christian mosaic floor covering 700 square meters. On this mosaic, the desire for colorful and lively design often seems more important than the dissemination of the Christian message of salvation in symbols. So in these pictures Jonas is not swallowed by a whale, but by a fantastic sea monster and spat out again on an inviting sandy beach.

Aquileja (World Heritage)